Monday, June 10, 2013
FRANCES HA (2013)
Directed By Noah Baumbach
Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 1, 2013 10:50PM
In "Frances Ha", the latest droll comedy from Noah Baumbach, twenty-seven year old Frances, with her life as a college student now in the past, is expected to begin living as an adult but this is far from an easy transition for her. She dreams of being a modern dancer but is fueled more by ambition than talent. Despite this obstacle, Frances has managed to become a member of a New York dance company but only as an understudy. As with most people, money is a constant issue but she manages to barely squeak by though odd jobs and teaching ballet to young girls at her dance studio. Displaying her Californian roots, Frances has a care-free, sunny optimism that makes her stand-out among the more sullen and jaded attitudes of her over-privileged peers. This young lady is brought to life by Greta Gerwig not only through her fine performance but also as a co-writer of the screenplay with Mr. Baumbach.
Frances is quite content with her current situation due to the fact that she's struggling along with her best friend since college, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). The two have a tight bond, sharing a living space and inside jokes, as they make the perfect couple, minus the sex. Frances admires Sophie mainly because she just gets her, much more than any man, and actually uses her dear friend as an excuse to exit her listless relationship after he asks Frances to move in.
A problem arises when Sophie gives notice that she's moving to a loft in Tribeca, her dream location in the city, without her. The news leaves Frances reeling but she attempts to carry a brave front. She ends up sleeping on a few couches, first with roommates, Miles (Adam Driver of HBO's "Girls") and Benji (Michael Zegan, who was just cast in the next season of "Girls"), a couple of good-natured slackers who treat Frances like one of the guys and later with Rachel (Grace Gummer), a fellow dancer who seems to have regretted the decision as soon as she made it. Frances drifts through each day, lost and unfocused but after Sophie announces that she's engaged to her boyfriend, Patch (Patrick Heusinger), this sends Frances over the edge, causing her to act irrationally, like taking an expensive, two-day trip to Paris.
If any of this brings to mind the cinematic romanticism of Woody Allen, it's no accident. Mr. Baumbach freely admits that with "Frances Ha", he's tipping his hat to the director, specifically his "Manhattan" era work and while this modern view of New York is slightly more grounded and gritty, it's still a fantasy version of the city that manages not to have a single person of color in sight. Shot in beautiful black & white by Sam Levy, this film has a wafer-thin plot, doesn't offer much as far as big laughs or memorable lines but "Frances" gets by with plenty of quirky charm and spiky sweetness.
The director and Ms Gerwig first worked together on the underrated Ben Stiller comedy, "Greenberg" with the actress making a minor splash in her supporting role. They decided to join forces once again to create something new with this partnership even leading them to become a couple off screen as well. Ms Gerwig has managed to make the peculiarities and neediness of Frances both exasperating and pleasantly irresistible while delivering some genuine moments that shows the complicated, messy and awkward sides of youth and self-discovery. Ms Sumner, the daughter of musician, Sting and producer, Trudie Styler, is a mesmerizing presence and to be honest, I think would have been just as impressive in the title role. She is one to keep an eye on.
At first glance, "Frances Ha" appears to be just another comedy about a single female searching for love and a sense of purpose in the chaotic big city. But by the time we reach the conclusion, we see that this film plays with that subject and our expectations on the ideas regarding romance, friendship and what makes a successful relationship.